The best songs are not always the ones that show off the greatest technical skills with their instruments. By a similar token, the best moments in games are not automatically correlated with how challenging they are. Plastic instrument rhythm games—Rock Band especially—demonstrate the intersection of both points.
So let’s geek out over how a Dinosaur Jr. song is exceptional, as both a piece of music AND as the rhythm game equivalent of a level.
Rock Band 2
“Feel The Pain”
The most vital part about this song that makes it work as both a listening experience and as a game level is the dynamism in speed and intensity as it progresses. Most rock music (when not venturing into progressive rock or the higher strata of metal, that is) keeps their songs at a constant, single tempo, and altertative rock is no exception. “Feel The Pain”, however, works at three different, alternating tempos.
And the way in which it alternates between those modes—let’s call them “slow”, “fast” and “faster”—along with how the guitars in particular switch up at each segment, all happen to fit the kind of difficulty curve that is perfectly appropriate for a satisfying game level. To wit:
- It starts with a slow intro and first verse, with the guitars alternating between a three-note arpeggio and constant single-note strums
- It ramps up into a fast wordless chorus, with the guitar section bring in hammer-ons and pull-offs and even intermittent two-note chords
- It ramps back down into a slow second verse, arpeggios and all
- It ramps up again into another fast wordless chorus
- It ramps up even higher into a faster bridge section that suddenly forces the guitarist to change from the mostly single notes of before work to handling way more chords, even having to deal with the occasional three-note chord
- It ramps way back down into a slow third verse, similar to before
- It ramps way up into a second faster, longer-lasting bridge section that goes heavy on the chords
- It ends with a (fucking incredible) guitar solo at faster speed, with the greatest demand on moving one’s fingers all around the five fret buttons, especially when hammer-ons and pull-offs get involved; the last two measures in particular are a burst of notes that abruptly yet excellently conclude the song
None of these specific sections are especially challenging. However, each individual segment ranges from being fun to being a blast to play, even at its most difficult. Plus, the segments are all distinct and varied, with the guitarist having to draw on many different techniques at different times—at different speeds at that—in order to pull through it and excel. Put together, it all adds up to a thoroughly satisfying whole.
Of course, the other reason why “Feel The Pain” is so fun is that it also happens to be a great song in its own right. Its different movements could have been disjointed and jagged, but the way in which the speed and intensity ebbs and flows instead ends up being the good-feeling kind of disorienting. Like the steep drops and crane-assisted climbs of a roller coaster.
RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime.